We are a nation divided, kept from strength by divisive policies that constantly remind us of our differences rather than our similarities and, in doing so, breed distrust and weakness. We have been reduced to nothing more than representatives of our different ethnic communities. Instead of being husband, father, wife, mother, child, lawyer, artist, accountant, doctor or public intellectual, we are instead Malay, Chinese, Indian or Other, the value we can each add to this society limited by the box that keeps us in our respective categories.
Though this may serve political interests, ‘divide and rule’ having always been a useful strategy for ensuring dominion, it does not serve our interests and those of the nation.
The NEP was intended to address disparities in income levels between the primary ethnic groups even as it addressed poverty across the board. I believe that over the years political interests had gradually hijacked the policy, so much so that Ketuanan Melayu has come to define the social contract for some while others believe that affirmative action is a permanent privilege of birth notwithstanding the policy having led to the enrichment of a small elite at the expense of the wider community and the nation.
Accepting that this is a contentious issue, consider instead where race based policies have left the nation and the Malay community respectively.
Where public education is concerned, though the policy has allowed for greater Malay student intake into institutions of learning at all levels, admission quotas and declining standards in a mass assembly style education system have led to the production of graduates, Malays and non-Malays alike, who are simply not good or confident enough to do what it takes or sufficiently experienced to deal with multi-racial existence. This has been influenced to an extent by political objectives that have suborned quality to quantity and, in having permitted race based appointments of educators, subjected the education system to a cycle that undermines it.
Seeing as how local graduates, diploma holders or school leavers form the bulk of the work force, in part due to more young Malaysians choosing not to return home after completing their studies abroad because they do not believe they can achieve the quality of life they aspire to here, this cannot be a good thing. It is no secret that the country faces a major human resource shortage.
This has had serious implications. One of the more evident knock-on effects is the impact it has had on the civil service. It is an open secret that race has played a big role, and continues to do so, in appointments and promotions, having resulted in a civil service made up almost entirely of Malays, graduates of local universities and schools in the main. In time, it has come to be dominated by persons who are not sufficiently equipped with the skill, knowledge and experience to do what they have to, unlike their predecessors.
The same can also be said of public institutions such as the Judiciary. Appointments to the bench have largely been from the Attorney General’s Chambers or the Judicial services and in this way the civil service experience, such as it is, has found its way onto the bench.
In all of this and more, race has figured very prominently, even though it should not have. It is not insignificant that of the ten Federal Court judges currently serving, eight are Malays, as are fifteen of the twenty serving Court of Appeal judges and thirty-three of the forty-eight serving High Court judges, the overwhelming majority of them having been appointed from the civil service.
This raises important questions. Though affirmative action may be a relevant consideration for us, what is the cost we will have to pay for it? Do we have to sacrifice our competitiveness and sustainability?
I think not. There are ways in which the poor and the disadvantaged, Malays and non-Malays alike, can be assisted without having to sacrifice the competitiveness of the nation or the individual Malaysian’s right to be the best he or she can be. Creating the methods by which this can be done requires maturity, a consideration of what this country needs in the long run and, above all, a jettisoning of political interests.
Sadly, it would seem that the Government has been incapable of this.
Take the Judiciary for instance. The Prime Minister has publicly admitted that we may not have the best persons for the job on the bench. It also appears as if race quotas have been imposed on appointments. How is it that that could have been permitted? The Judiciary is a crucial institution, a cornerstone of democracy that requires the best minds to function as it was meant to. Leave aside the fact that the Constitution does not authorize such quotas for the Judiciary, that justice can be served by reference to ethnic considerations defies logic and common sense. Justice is blind to all considerations, race and religion included.
That the Government was prepared to allow the Judiciary to be subverted in this way is indication enough of how it is that other aspects of governance have been approached, especially those essential to the functioning of the pluralist democracy that Malaysia is. It is hardly surprising then that race relations has taken on an edge that it never had before.